Dedicated to Bobby Jameson
Warped pop mastermind finds his muse
by Jericho Cerrona
The title for pop provocateur Ariel Pink's latest album is more than simply a nod to fellow Los Angeles fringe artist Bobby Jameson, whose career trajectory mirrors so many other lonely souls swallowed by the black void of Tinseltown. If Jameson found minor notoriety in the 1960's by conjuring psychedelic pop in the mold of Brian Wilson and Frank Zappa, then the following two decades would see him spiraling into drug abuse, depression, and music industry fallout. Incidentally, Pink has spent the better part of the last two decades conjuring his own version of cheesy psych-pop whilst imagining himself a tortured weirdo. His lyrical preoccupations are bizarre, kitschy, and often problematic; while his interview persona tilts toward the rambling and anti-PC. Of course, Pink is smart enough to know that trolling social justice warriors is part of what makes pop stars glimmer in 2017, but meme culture sensations are of secondary concern to a guy who's always obscured intent under the guise of retro mystique.
Back in the early 2000s, before the age of Twitter and Reddit threads, Pink was slinging out various cassette tapes, CD-Rs and ramshackle home recordings in an unapologetic ode to his hero, R. Stevie Moore. Like Moore, who released hundreds of lo-fi projects, Pink seems more interested in appropriating long-dead sounds of AM radio full of tape hiss, radio jingles, and warped pop balladry than making cohesive records standing on their own. Of course, the relative success of 2010's Before Today (made with a full band called Haunted Graffiti) changed that; catapulting him out of the basement and into the realm of 4AD-approved hipsterdom. He disbanded his group shortly thereafter in order to run solo again, leading to 2012's Mature Themes and 2014's Pom Pom. If the latter was a direct response to touring burnout and disdain for the pose of the reluctant rock star, then Dedicated to Bobby Jameson is a response to that response. Pom Pom was a work of brilliant maximalism which saw Pink pilling on every sonic tangent into one aural kaleidoscopic vision, while Dedicated to Bobby Jameson feels like a warm hug. The two records seem to be working in stark contrast, but upon multiple listens, the truth is that all of the work is of a piece; telling a very specific narrative, even as Pink imbues this tale with another mini-narrative about a fledgling L.A. songwriter unraveling in spectacular fashion.
Truthfully, there's a marked change in tone signaling Dedicated to Bobby Jameson as a more somber affair than it's predecessor, and Pink has admitted as much in recent interviews, where he talked about feeling depressed and world-weary. The death of innocence and pitfalls of fame is a central theme here; even as lyrically, Pink often sideswipes such navel-gazing by applying witty one-liners, weird puns, and earworm melodies. There I go again/Falling in love again/Knew better just like before but here I go Pink croons on the Cure-inspired "Just Like Heaven" with the kind of detachment reserved for someone nearing 40 who no longer believes in the kind of romanticism the tune implies. Elsewhere, on "Another Weekend", probably the saddest song Pink has ever written, he laments wasted time and the kind of loneliness that can only come after achieving a measure of success. The dichotomy of realizing that fame is poisonous to human nature is in direct contrast with the life of Bobby Jameson; a man who spent the better half of his life complaining bitterly about how no one took him seriously. Then, he was dead.
Despite the less wacky tone overall, Dedicated to Bobby Jameson is by no means a complete bummer. There's goofy organ drones and looped quasi-British accents ("Santa's in the Closet"), warbly garage pop with Netflix and Uber references ("Dreamdate Narcissist"), and funky disco basslines ("Death Patrol"). Try not to chuckle, for instance, when Pink sings He was a Tinseltown tranny and mayor of the Sunset Strip on the 60's-sounding freak folk/psych title track. Still, there's an obsession with regret and sadness lingering around every sparkling melody and odd detour here that implies more than simply another cog in Pink's ever-growing catalog of bizarro pop.
Calling Dedicated to Bobby Jameson a focused or mature record, though, is another matter. As always, Pink uses pastiche, sleazy glam poses, and long-forgotten modes of production in order to comment on our need for self-reflection, even as he remains coy about how he really feels. If anything, the album's mantra comes in the form of the Krautrock jam "Time to Live", where the lines Time to live/Time for life/Time to live/Time to die repeat into oblivion, poking fun at the inane cycle of our existence. If Jameson were still alive, he'd probably be jealous.